SOFIA Telescope Aboard A Modified Boeing 747 Commercial Airliner Shows Infrared Images Of Jupiter’s Atmosphere

First Posted: Jan 08, 2017 03:10 AM EST

The recently captured SOFIA telescope images of Jupiter's atmosphere provide information regarding its temperature and composition. The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is a NASA's flying observatory, which uses a modified Boeing 747 airplane previously used by Pan American World Airways.

SOFIA is a joint venture of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, which was launched in 2010, and employs an airborne 2.5-meter diameter telescope to capture images of celestial bodies, which cannot be observed with the help of even the highest ground-based telescopes. SOFIA flies above the infrared-blocking water vapor layer of the Earth's atmosphere, which allows it to track the changes in Jupiter's atmosphere.

Leigh N. Fletcher at the University of Leicester combined the data obtained from the SOFIA telescope with the Faint Object Infrared Camera (FORCAST) and revealed that the southern hemisphere of Jupiter is slowly cooling down. The infrared images also indicate that the belt structure that is present around the center of the planet is cold and is surrounded by belts of warmer, sinking gas, WIRED reported.

These results of the study published in Icarus scientific journal show that the SOFIA telescope images are at par with the quality of space images that were only achieved by spacecraft in the past.

"These SOFIA observations will fill the gap in the wavelength coverage of current and future space-based observatories and provide spatial and temporal context for them," Fletcher said.

SOFIA infrared images also allow scientists to study details that usually remain hidden in visible light. In this particular case, astronomers made use of the Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA telescope to study the concentration of the ortho- and para-hydrogen content in Jupiter's atmosphere, Yahoo reported.

The present knowledge of Jupiter's atmosphere is mostly based on the information sent from spacecraft such as the Voyager 1, Galileo and Cassini. The SOFIA telescope images will further help in enhancing human understanding of Jupiter's atmosphere.

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